Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chocolate, Watches, Army Knives and a Lot of Other Stuff You Can't Afford (unless you also have a secret bank account here)--Zurich (March 29)

Rosa and I left Spain early in the morning and arrived in Zurich around noon.  Since we didn't depart for Israel until 10:45 pm, we had the day to explore the city.  I'd hoped to get up into the Alps as a kind of preview of Nepal, but Zurich is a good distance from the mountains, so we decided to just stay in town and do a walking tour.

The old heart of Zurich is charming, similar in ways to Amsterdam and, I suppose, many other northern European cities.  Quite different from Mediterranean nations like Spain and Italy and, for that matter, Israel.  Here, the world is greyer, much more efficient and business-like, and also more polite.  The first thing that Rosa and I both noticed is that people actually stop for you when you cross the streets.  That was a relief.  At lunch we walked into a pastry shop, which was mobbed.  Yet two men in their thirties--partners, I think--both immediately offered us chairs at their table and shared their stories and their chocolate.  They gave us some thoughtful advice on where to walk, what to see--and offered it in such an urbane, finely-mannered fashion.  Very Swiss.

Our walking tour included one of the Zurich synagogues.  It was closed when we arrived, but was handsome in a stolid sort of way, much like the big churches in town.  After being in Catholic Spain, one understands the Protestant Reformation better.  The churches here reflect that history, and they are quite simple and restrained--so different from the Spanish baroque. Interestingly, one of them has stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.  Unfortunately, it, too, was closed.

The weather was very chilly and damp all day, so we stopped at numerous occasions for pastries and hot drinks.  For this, we paid dearly.  Switzerland must be the most expensive nation on earth. Surprisingly, they use francs instead of euros, so we had to change money again.  It didn't go far.  One Swiss franc is worth just a little more than a dollar--and to give you an idea of the prices, a Big Mac costs twelve francs.  We didn't have one of those!  But our pasta lunch cost eighty dollars and two hot drinks at Starbucks ran to $16.  I could go broke in a week here. Fortunately, for the wallet at least, we only had a day.  And we spent all of our remaining change on wonderfully creamy chocolate bars.

At nightfall, we headed back to the airport and caught our flight to Israel.  More on that to come. 

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